... First of all, let me start out by making VERY CLEAR that this is coming from the understanding the the SotA Releases are not attempts at releasing a complete game. Each Release has come with a set of aspects of the game that are being specifically tested and that's how they should be looked at and graded. With that in mind, I will give my final thoughts of the project as a whole after the Release 3 review. Shroud of the Avatar Release 3 There has been a constant thread during each Release so far on the SotA forums to rate each Release on a 1 through 5 scale. In terms of this, and based on the criteria of the release, I gave this one a 4. Release 3 was really based on two specific items: Multiplayer Access and the third "town" Braemar. A few extras were also delivered such as emotes and Player/NPC trading. The Towns While still rather "prototypical", the towns will likely appeal to Ultima players as they are reminiscent of Britannian towns Britain or maybe Trinsic (Owl's Head), Vesper (Kingsport), and Yew (Braemar). Owl's Head is already well known to Shroud players from Release 1 forward. It's built to show what all the different towns will include and as such has more of the typical "RPG town" feel to it. By contrast, Braemar is barely able to be called a Village... AT FIRST. This one is built with the players in mind deep in an old forest that will change as players claim and build the space. Saturday evening gave me an extended taste of the surrounds of Braemar which include the graveyard, a small cave, and an area where wisps flit in and out of existence. It is in areas like this that the technological advances made since the opening days of UO really shine through. Shadows from the trees and birds overhead play on the ground as the light from the sun passes through. Mists float up from the graveyard in the early dusks and dawns and even the static textures of the ground, stone, and wood are all highly detailed (especially if you crank up the requisite display settings). If this is just a taste of the game as a whole, it's going to be EASY to end up spending an entire (real life) night ingame without even realizing it. Graphics This is an area that will always get a bunch of different opinions. First of all, even back to R1, the graphics have been better than a game this early (Pre-Alpha at that) should even be. At most the team should just be trying to get basic things to work much less "looking pretty". A look at Path of Exile's Pre-Alpha screenshots show a game that looks more suited to Windows 3.11 than Windows 7. Even when I started playing about this time last year, the graphics and animation were at best "clunky" yet they have become some of the most detailed for the isometric/Diablo style game genre. In regards to SotA, not only do we have working systems, but quite impressive graphics to go with them. The world is vibrant, but not cartoony (WoW), realistic, but not near-monochrome (Fallout). Character models still need work as the basics are there, but the refinements are not. Even with a limited amount of options, people were able to begin crafting their own unique looks based on hair style, hair color, and clothing options. In terms of quality, the environment has been NAILED. All that's really left to do is work in the environmental effects such as weather and build the rest of the world. Character models and animation still need a lot of work, however, Portalarium has been busy and hired a new animation dev whose credits include working on the God of War series and the Sims. Music Those who have watched the videos from Release 1 may remember the out of place, repetitive, rather annoying music that was used once you got in game. Well that is GONE and in its place are tunes crafted and/or selected by a group of Shroud of the Avatar players. Instead of a placeholder, we are starting to get music that defines the area just as much as the graphics do. And don't worry about the music getting stale and repetitive, the music cycles through several pieces before returning to the first. This may be one of the biggest showcases of the Crowdsourcing mindset Portalarium is using and it is paying off for everyone involved. Multiplayer Here was the biggest success and biggest problem for the game. The success was that we all got to play together for the first time, and at least for this weekend, it was enough. Even with something that could more be called a "space" and not a "game", that seems to be all people needed. Many people simply enjoyed standing around chatting about ideas, thoughts memories, concerns, or marveling at the new vision being put in front of them. Others enjoyed the time to clown around, test boundaries, find online Devs to chat with, or even find old friends they may not have played with in years (I had this privilege myself). The downside could be summed up in one word: LAG Owl's Head at times could become unplayable due to this. Currently, connectivity is in no way optimized and the quality of the instance (in this case each individual town) is determined by the first person who enters the town. If that person has an older system or slower connection, this caused problems for everyone. It was stated that they would be putting in system spec requirements so that the game will bump the "host" to someone who meets the requirements to give people a smoother experience. Kingsport and Braemar, being smaller than Owl's Head and less "centric" in nature tended to be far less of a lag problem. As it was, at certain times, it was more advantageous to drop to Single Player in order to accomplish something such as crafting, or in some cases, making certain "parkour jumps" to get onto a rooftop. Crafting and NPC Economics Well, the basics are in. Crafting was added in R2 and a few extra features were added in R3. Again as stated previously, this was better accomplished in Single Player mode due to the lag in Multiplayer and the need to obtain resources from the chests provided. Since crafting is still under revision and a part of R2, the main new feature was buying from and selling to NPCs. This was mainly done by double-clicking a vendor NPC (generally noted by their title or by the change in cursor highlight). This brings up a list-based buy and sell UI which while basic, should be familiar to UO players including the spot where your character "signs off" on the trade. Gold thus far was a simple number attached to the character and no real economics are yet at play. Still, seeing the beginnings of the vendor system being familiar is a good one to see. The crafting and item management system are still in need of some work as lag between client and server in updating between the two allowed for a relatively simple dupe bug, which I in no way condone in the final version, but here it allowed for some interesting testing. In using this bug, it was found that the maximum number for a stack is 2,147,483,647. Any more than this netted a negative value returned. Obviously, once the economy gets developed and balances put into place, it is hoped that 2.147 Billion is a theoretical cap more than a real one. Comparisons to UO As an Ultima Online player from January 1998, there is more than a little of UO in SotA, and in the right regards as well. Housing will be a part of the world, but will be controlled better than UO did. The crafting and economic portions of the game will feel familiar. I am hoping to see a return to the earlier economics of UO when the NPCs had a more realistic feel in terms of supply and demand. Clothing and armor are kept relatively basic, and I'm sure we'll see dye tubs to further customize our looks. The Devs have stated their disdain towards the outrageous armor styles seen in other games. Rough Spots Obviously the "game" still has plenty of these from the lag and dupes mentioned above to just some outright oddities happening. Some people would log into a town to find the populace standing in midair... quite a ways in midair. Players could "float" by jumping and performing an emote in the middle of the jump. Lag would allow them to hover for a while in some cases. While the broken moon looks better than in R1 and moves better, the night sky is currently a constant thin cloud cover. Also, the movement of the sun and moon as well as the shadows created move in a jerky fashion. Character control is another issue, specifically in multiplayer due to the lag. In single-player it does take some getting used to the control scheme and some players may have to be careful about motion sickness (due to quick turns and swaying trees/plants). However in Multiplayer, the lag at times could prevent doing simple things like jumping which becomes a bigger issue down the road. Portalarium You can call it "fanboy gushing" all you want, but I have been constantly pleased and impressed by Lord British and team. I know a LOT of people did (and still do) have the reaction of "Oh here we go again" in regards to hearing about SotA, and it's not without merit. LB has a lot of past issues he needs to overcome in terms of game quality (specifically Ultima 8, 9 and Tabula Rasa), but he has admitted that fact and has shown that outside of a corporate structure he has been able to put together a knowledgeable and most importantly accessible Dev Team. Chris Spears after R2 posted a list of how Portalarium was "doing things wrong"... but if SotA is being developed "wrong", then we need to take another look at was "doing it right" means. I believe that the UO team would do themselves a world of good looking at the management style being used by Portalarium as it would go a long way in bringing back good will that may have been lost in the past several years. Final Thoughts Release 3 was not without its problems even considering the specific test list which is why I can;t say that things went "perfect", but the Team is on the right track. If this has been a gushingly positive review, it's because SotA is REAL. It's not some secret project that might see a few "leaked" screenshots. It's an honest project led by a team that understands that since their Kickstarter, they are beholden to deliver. Personally, I can't wait for Release 4!